In a reversal of a long-standing ban, US president Barack Obama is set to announce a plan to permit exploration for oil and natural gas off the coast of Virginia. At the same time, he is rejecting some new drilling sites that had been planned in Alaska.
On 31 March 2010 Obama detailed the new drilling policy for offshore oil and natural gas at a military base in Maryland. White House officials pitched the changes as ways to reduce US reliance on foreign oil and create jobs.
Seismic exploration in the south Atlantic and mid-Atlantic outer continental shelf of the US will determine the quantity and location of potential oil and gas resources to support energy planning. The Bush plan had called for leases to be offered in November 2011 but it was not immediately clear whether the Obama administration would stick to that schedule.
A senior interior official said in January that drilling off Virginia's coast would be delayed past the original 2011 leasing date. The proposed Virginia lease area, located about 80km from shore, may hold 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cu/ft of natural gas, based on interior department estimates.
In addition, the interior department will continue lease sales in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico, which have proved to have sizeable reserves. Much of the Eastern Gulf is currently under a congressional moratorium on oil and gas operations.
The interior department's plan would open up about two-thirds of the available oil and gas resources in this region in the event that the moratorium is lifted, the official said.